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School leaders try to clear up SPLOST confusion
Sales tax revenue would be used only for education projects, officials say
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School SPLOST vote

What: Approval of a 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax for Hall County, Gainesville and Buford schools

When: March 15

Early voting: Through March 11, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Hall County Elections Office, 2285 Browns Bridge Road, 770-531-6945

 

School leaders are hoping to ease confusion about renewing a sales tax for education as early voters head to the ballot box this month.

Specifically, what would the special purpose local option sales tax fund?

"I do my polling at Longstreet Cafe and there's a lot of misunderstanding about the municipal SPLOST and education SPLOST," Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. "The extension vote has to do exclusively with education projects in Hall County, Gainesville and Buford."

All three school systems are seeking a renewal to the 1-cent tax for education that will expire in 2013. The issue will appear before voters March 15; early voting began Wednesday runs until March 11.

The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and a committee of community members, "Citizens for a Better Education," are ramping up their campaign efforts as the vote approaches. But some questions still linger about the SPLOSTs.

Some residents believe the two referendums are not separate, Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

"The special purpose local option sales tax for governmental entities is voted on during a separate cycle and separate time," she said.

Dollars generated from the education SPLOST will cover school building renovations and relieve bond debt, she said.

In Gainesville, one of the greatest needs is creating more space at elementary schools.

Dyer explained that modular classrooms are used at almost every district school. Both New Holland Core Knowledge and Gainesville Exploration academies were originally constructed to house about 650 students. But enrollments have reached 680 and 910 students this year, respectively.

She said school construction projects will "give us options to place school programs."

The SPLOST is expected to generate about $130 million. Gainesville would collect about $25.5 million, with $100 million for Hall County over the next five years. The funds are divided based on enrollment figures.

Buford City Schools negotiated a share of about $3.8 million with Hall and Gainesville.

Hall County schools plan to use the funds to pay for building renovations, classroom technology and paying off bond debt.

The vote also comes as some school buildings in each district reach 50-plus years in age. School leaders agree that replacing or repairing old buildings will be critical in the coming years.

Dyer added that some of the confusion among voters could stem from the name SPLOST. The school SPLOST sometimes is referred to as E-LOST, education local option sales tax, to help differentiate the two.

Hall County Public Works and Utilities Director Ken Rearden said the county SPLOST, passed in 2009, funds such projects as county buildings, water and sewer and parks.

He said the upcoming SPLOST vote has nothing to do with the county and vice versa but there are some partnerships to share funding, he said.

"Sometimes the county and education system partner to do a park at a school," he said. "We have spent some SPLOST funds on recreation that can be a joint venture with the school. It makes the dollars go farther."

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